An authentic brand experience is a sensory experience.
Ninety percent of our sensory experiences are visual. But authentic brand experiences utilize every possible sensory modality. Color, shape, size, sound, scent and touch are all sensory cues which consumers use to identify, categorize and evaluate products. The customers will, in turn, develop very strong beliefs about your brand’s attributes with very little specific information to go on based on their initial sensory experience.
We intuitively decode the language of product attributes using what are often referred to as “implicit product theories.”
What are implicit product theories?
Let’s start with an easy one. Car manufacturers use scent (“the new car smell”) and sound (engines revving) to evoke conscious or subconscious feelings of qualities such as newness, luxury, or sportiness. We also devise our implicit theories based on our personal beliefs. For example: if I buy a Japanese car, it will be of a higher quality and have a higher resale value.
It’s surprising (and maybe a little frightening to companies) to learn that your audience develops beliefs about your brand attributes using very little brand-specific information. They evaluate products in seconds, with very little information to go on.
Research has shown that people often use visual information that is not even directly related to the product to form inferences about its characteristics. For example, you may sell luxury skin care goods, but if your shop is housed in a crumbling, shabby district, the customer may form negative inferences about your skincare before she’s even had the opportunity to inspect them.
We are deeply influenced by sensory stimulation, whether we are consciously aware of it or not.
How can your company harness branding touchpoints that streamline the brand through different senses?
All senses can accomplish three tasks: attract attention, activate emotions and trigger a response, and generate perceptive illusions. One of the easiest ways to A/B test your brand’s sensory influence is to play with color. For example, it would not be a good idea to market a tranquilizer medication in a red package. Red is highly energetic, bold, and stimulating and does not offer the visual promise of the product’s long term benefits. Blue, on the other, conveys peace, calm, serenity and a seafoam green or light gray would achieve similar results.
Visualize the shapes of a Heinz Ketchup bottle and a Coca-Cola bottle. Can you imagine Heinz Ketchup packaged in a Coca-Cola bottle? Or vice versa? It’s similar to asking a prospect to visualize a luxury women’s perfume packaged in a tin can. Shape brings with it a bias, and our brains will also search to compare a new product shape to other shapes we have observed in the past. This is one of our first training tools as children to learn spatial uniqueness and depth of field, and it doesn’t go away. To influence the perceived volume, weight, importance or delicacy of a product, you must consider and test the shape on beta groups before releasing to the wider public.
Does your product click shut or snap shut? Does it make a zipping noise? Is it known for being quiet, or for having a signature sound? Will it inspire, lull, arouse, energize, or fill someone with confidence? Notice the music that they play in American Eagle, for example. The music is on just loud enough that it’s hard to hear across the store, but at a volume where your body can feel the bass and get you pumped to shop and try on clothes–you may even find yourself dancing in the dressing room. Songs also trigger memories and evoke the trends and cultural values of the century in which they were produced. Do you provide nature sounds in your spa? Do you have a classic little shop bell triggered by your front door? Plan the aural experience from beginning to end for your customers.
Scent is the most powerful sense we have, because it’s directly connected to the long term memory stores of the brain. Have you ever shopped for a house or apartment? One of the real estate tricks of the trade when marketing a property is to stage the home or apartment with selective sensory touchpoints. One of these, oft neglected points is scent. But certain real estate agents will burn a warm Christmas-tree scented candle, or even bake cookies in the home before potential visitors arrive! This fills the home with the smells that trigger comfort and family.
How does your product feel? How does the packaging feel? Do you ship your product in soft, recyclable packaging, or a large box? Will it wear and tear? Also, when thinking of marketing campaigns for your brand’s products you can also brainstorm ways to demonstrate the product’s benefits through touch. Samples in beauty shops, tester bottles, and facial misters are excellent examples. Snuggle, the dryer sheet company, will demonstrate how soft to the touch clothes feel after they’ve been through the dryer with a Snuggle sheet versus tumbling through the dryer without one. Touch is the sense where human beings feel the most vulnerable, so tread carefully here and think about how it would be effective for your audience.
Branding must be considered from all angles, and all five senses. Employing marketing and branding touchpoints for all senses may not be applicable to your business growth, but don’t be afraid to consider them for maximum impact.